Some of you who are familiar with mythical folklore might remember “faerie gold.” Faerie gold is glittering riches bestowed upon humans by faeries. It looks real until humans try to use it, at which point it either disappears or changes into something worthless. Keep this in mind for a few minutes.
During the 18-month period it took us to sell our old home, I kept notes about various things that happened because I knew I would be writing an article for Backwoods Home Magazine on the subject of For Sale By Owner (FSBO) selling. (I submitted the article a couple weeks ago, and it’s slated to be printed in the near future.)
But while writing the article, I opted to leave out an unusual series of communications that happened with one prospective “buyer” (scammer) since it was too long, drawn-out, and confusing to include in the article. However it was weird enough that I thought I would post the experiences here, and see if any of you could offer insight.
In a nutshell, this is what happened. We engaged in some bizarre, elaborate, and lengthy emails (over several weeks) supposedly involving two physicians working in southern California, but originally from Australia. They apparently were so eager to buy our home in the middle of rural Idaho that they had their “solicitor” draw up papers before they had even seen the property. Suffice it to say the solicitor’s contact information (website, physical address) was incorrect, and the phone number was disconnected. The only contact was by email. There were so many red flags about these people that in the end it became more amusing than anything else as they strung us along.
I kept all communications from this party, which are copied below. Please note the English is careful but not fluent (spelling and punctuation is copied from the original). The last names of the buyers are substituted with [Lastname], and the attorney’s last name is substituted with [Surname]. [Bracketed and italicized comments are mine.]
Them: “Hello, is this property still available in the market? We would like to get more information. Are you the owner?” [This communication included a Los Angeles phone number and an email.]
My response: “With regards to your inquiry about our homestead for sale – yes, it’s still available, and we are the owners. We’d be happy to answer any questions.”
Them: “Sorry for the late response. My wife and I are doctors which is quite overwhelming especially in such uncertain times. It’s good to know you are the property owner because we have a few questions that need your answers. We would like to know the following;
1. Has there been any major renovation done in the past?
2. Currently, are there any major or minor renovations to be done? Especially with the roof, how old is the roof?
3. Can we get a list of what is included and not included in the house sale?
4. Lastly, please enlighten us on what the neighborhood is like
My wife is particularly interested in the property so we would like to get answers to these questions to be sure it fits with our budget then we can proceed accordingly.”
[This was the first red flag for us. Why would two doctors be interested in a homestead property in a remote corner of Idaho?]
Me: (Gave detailed responses to his questions.)
Them: “Thank you for the detailed response and sharing these information to help us make a decision. It is good to hear the roof will not be needing any renovation, talking from experience. Kindly let us know when is a good time to inspect so we can get a physical view of the property Let us know if 2pm next tuesday or wednesday works for you. In the meantime, share the floor plan of the property so we can have a better understanding of it’s layout. Lia (my wife) is particularly interested in this property and has made necessary steps to prompt our attorney to come up with a formal offer. We would be happy to present to you for your consideration and hopefully we can come to an agreement and close the deal at the earliest time possible.”
[This is when multiple red flags began waving. Why would anyone make a "formal offer" on a property they hadn't even seen? We did extensive searches and found absolutely no online presence for anyone with the names they gave us. Surely two doctors in Southern California would have some sort of internet presence?]
Me: “We’d be delighted to schedule a showing. Either of those dates (Tue. Aug. 4 or Wed. Aug. 5) work well for us. We have another party interested in seeing the property early next week, so give us a firm date/time and we’ll make sure the other party picks a different date/time. Have you been to our dedicated website? You’ll find floor plans of the house, a Google Earth overhead shot of the property, and dozens of photos. Please note we are firm on our asking price. Our property is actually priced on the low side for comparable properties in our area. As a matter of interest, where are you coming from?”
Them: “Thank you once again. We will be looking forward to the inspection for next week Tuesday and will be sure to keep in touch. Our attorney is copied on this email, his name is Justin and he will be coming up with all our offer for the property, proof of funds and letter of intent. Hopefully we can strike a deal after the inspection and you have considered our offer.”
[Note, he didn't answer my question of where they were coming from.]
From the attorney: “I would like to take this opportunity to formally introduce myself to Patrice as the solicitor to Drs. Morgan and Lia [Lastname]. It is my understanding there’s existing correspondence between seller (Patrice Lewis) and prospective buyer (Drs. Morgan and Lia [Lastname]) prompting an intent to purchase your property. Patrice, Kindly advise if you have a contract of sale. If yes, please provide. Thanks, Kind regards.”
[The contact information from this "solicitor" was in Queensland, Australia. We immediately did an internet search and found discrepancies, notably in the spelling of the solicitor's email address versus the spelling of the company in which he was supposedly a partner.]
Don wrote an email to the “solicitors” in Queensland as follows: “Good day: My name is Don Lewis and I’m writing to inquire if Justin [Surname] is an associate partner with your firm. I’m located in the State of Idaho in the U.S. and we are in the process of selling our house. We were contacted by Drs. Morgan and Lia [Lastname] about our home and they asked their attorney, Justin [Surname], to deal with making an offer. Below is the contact information and signature line for Mr. Madden [Here, Don listed the full contact info provided.] While his address is the same as yours, neither of the phone numbers agree with your office numbers, and one of them points to the U.S. state of New Jersey. Additionally, his email address is spelled differently than your firm’s. Please advise us if Mr. [Surname] is associated with your firm. Thank you for your consideration in this matter. – Don Lewis”
We heard nothing back from the email, so we tried calling the Queensland phone number. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work.
Me, to the buyers: “We will look for you on Tuesday, August 4, at 2 pm. You will find driving directions below. Where are you coming from?”
[This was the second attempt to gauge where they're from. No response.]
The buyers rescheduled: “Hi Don & Patrice, I just found this message in my outbox, apparently i thought i had sent it until i didn’t get a reply from you up till this morning i decided to check again. Can we please reschedule the inspection for Thursday or Friday same time (2pm)? Some other situation just came up that won’t allow the previous arrangement. Sorry for any inconvenience this might cause.”
Me: “Thursday will not work since we have a prior commitment. However Friday at 2 pm sounds fine. We’ll see you then.”
Then the attorney sent a “Formal Offer” with encrypted attachments. The email said: “FORMAL OFFER. Sequel to previous correspondence with my clients, please find Introduction letter, Offer Letter and Proof of funds as discussed. I’m available until 5pm today if you need me for further clarity.”
[Neither of us could open the encrypted attachments. And again, who makes an offer without ever having seen the property?]
Me to attorney: “I’m sorry, we’re unable to open the attached files. Please send either un-encrypted or as a Word attachment. Alternately, since your clients will be viewing the property this upcoming Friday, they can bring the documents with them.”
Attorney: “My apologies. My clients just brought my attention to this. Let me have it resent to you. I’m not with my computer i could send you the pdf if it’s easier.”
Me: “Yes, please try a pdf.”
[No reply from attorney.]
Me to buyers: “Please confirm your plans to inspect our homestead tomorrow at 2 pm. If your schedule has changed, do let us know. Where are you coming from? Also, did you receive the driving directions I sent yesterday?”
And that was that. We never heard back from either the “buyers” or the “solicitor.” On the day they were supposed to arrive, we cleaned the house and prepared to receive them, but were completely unsurprised when no one showed up.
So what was behind this elaborate ruse? My only guess is they supposed that since our house was FSBO, we were a couple of uneducated rubes. But what were they after? They never asked for money (like those silly Nigerian scams). It’s not like they could steal our house.
About this time, a lot of scary advertisements were airing about home title theft, but as it turns out, home title theft is actually very rare and usually involves a lot of clueless (often elderly) sellers giving away far more information than they should. I did take the precaution of calling our title company to confirm the house was still in our name (it was), but otherwise title theft did not seem to be the focus of these scammers.
Another possibility was the encrypted file sent by the attorney (which neither of us could open) might have put a bug in our computers that that would lead them to finding the passwords to our home’s title, which they could then “steal” so they could “sell” our house to some unsuspecting victim – but that’s nothing more than speculation. We ran virus scans on both our computers and found nothing. Nor have we since then.
Anyway, that was our experience. Like faerie gold, the whole ephemeral ruse disappeared into thin air. In fact, that’s what we started calling it – the Faerie Gold scam. Even now, many months later, we’re clueless why these people engaged in such a lengthy back-and-forth communications, but without any apparent benefit to themselves.
Can anyone offer any insight to what in blazes this whole elaborate drawn-out scheme was about?
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